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Transit system records high numbers in first month


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Tim Leeds Havre Daily News [email protected]

The director of the newly formed North Central Montana Transit system said, in its first month of operation, the system's buses have transported far more passengers than he, or the initial study done about creating public transportation, expected. “Our ridership numbers are big,” Director Jim Lyons said during a meeting of the system's board Tuesday. “It's serving the population, and the folks, I think, who were targeted by the initial study.” Riders of the transit system, which started operation Aug. 24, say they are glad it is up and running. Rhonda Yellow-Crantz, riding the shuttle-bus from Fort Belknap Indian Reservation to Havre en route to Great Falls, said early Tuesday morning that she rides the transit system every day. “It's very important to me,” she said. “It's my ride to college.” The transit system operates routes Monday through Friday from Fort Belknap and from Box Elder to Havre and back, as well as making stops at locations in Havre including the university, the hospital and clinics, Gary & Leo's Fresh Foods, and the Holiday Village Mall, Kmart and Wal-Mart. Tuesday and Thursday it also transports passengers, starting in Fort Belknap to Great Falls and back. Peter LaMere, transit coordinator for Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, said the bus now running from Rocky Boy into Havre also is getting some passengers, but not many as yet. That system, which started operations about two weeks ago, is transporting as few as two passengers on some days, he said. “It's not going great,” LaMere said. “We're only getting a few passengers a trip.” Lyons and Barb Stiffarm, executive director of Opportunity Link Inc., offered to help the Rocky Boy system coordinate with North Central Montana Transit, to help tweak the schedules and operations procedures and to publicize and promote the Rocky Boy system's schedule. During the meeting, Lyons illustrated that the North Central system is not having a problem with a shortage of passengers. In its first five weeks of operation, the system has transported 1,035 passengers. The initial study projected the system transporting between 200 and 350 a month, he said. Lyons said those numbers, and benefits provided to passengers and the communities to and in which they ride, could help when the system makes a plea to several local governments for funding for the system. He urged members of the committee to attend budget meetings planned in Havre, Chinook and at the Blaine County Commission to try to persuade those governments to help fund the transit system. The system received its initial funding through grants from the Montana Department of Transportation,in the amount of $75,000 to pay for startup costs, and $227,000 through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, to purchase buses expected to arrive early next year. The anti-poverty organization Opportunity Link, which spearheaded the creation of the transit system, applied for those grants and has other applications pending. The system asked for local governments and entities to contribute $30,000 each for the first year of operation, an amount expected to decrease as additional funding from the state is secured for future years. Stiffarm said the system now has funding commitments from her organization, the Hill County government, Montana State University-Northern, Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation and the Fort Belknap Indian Reservat ion. Harlem and Chinook have said they would like to provide in-kind services for their share, she said. Lyons said the service is providing a definite benefit to the governments it serves, increasing the number of people using services and shopping in the communities. He said one example was a special trip the bus made during Festival Days on Sept. 19. He got a call asking if the bus could take the Southern Alberta Pipe Band to the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce's Ag Appreciation Banquet. The band was scheduled to perform, but had no ride, Lyons said. After taking band members to the banquet, the bus dropped the pipe band off in downtown Havre, he said. After hearing a request r e l aye d by Hi l l Co u n t y Commissioner Mike Anderson, Lyons said the system could do a similar service for the passengers of a special steam train, which came through Havre last summer, when it returns Friday, Oct. 16. That will give the train's passengers an opportunity to spend some time and money in downtown Havre, Lyons said. The passengers of the bus service also are touting its benefits. Yellow-Crantz, who is an elementary education student at Montana State University- Northern, said she would have no way to get to Northern without the buses. She said she boards the bus every morning, at 8 a.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday and at 6:40 a.m. on Tuesday and Thursday, the days that the earlier bus leaves for Havre and Great Falls. She said that the early days on Tuesday and Thursday are worth it. “It's my priority to finish my degree, so the time does not bother me,” she said. Kathe r ine Donde ro o f Louisiana said she also was glad the bus was running, for a different reason. While waiting for the bus to arrive at the parking lot of Gary & Leo's Fresh Foods at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, Dondero said she was stranded in Havre with no cash. She was taking the bus to Great Falls, where she hoped to raise enough money to buy a ticket on a Greyhound bus t o Minneapolis. “This is great,” she said about the free bus service. The members of the committee told a multitude of stories similar to those told by Yellow- Crantz and Dondero. Stiffarm said she knows of a Fort Belknap family who is using the buses to Great Falls nearly every day to visit family members in intensive care in a Great Falls hospital. She also told of a Northern nursing student who had to take a required class in Great Falls, but had no way to get there until one week before class began, the transit system started, Stiffarm said. Lyons told of a person who is a student at Stone Child College at Rocky Boy who is using the bus every day. “This is his opportunity,” Lyons said. “This is how he gets to and from college.” Others use the service to get to medical appointments in Havre, as well as to get to jobs not only in Havre, but also from Havre to jobs in Chinook, Harlem and Fort Belknap, he said. The bus already has transported a passenger from Great Falls to Fort Belknap and back, after he flew into Great Falls and went back Tuesday to fly back out. Lyons and Stiffarm said they also have had calls from Washington state and New Jersey asking about the schedule on the Great Falls run. He said the schedule being used is being reviewed, with changes possible depending on demand and the resources available. The service already is making some special stops, such as picking people up at the Eagles Manor Ret irement Home with enough advance notice, and also has been picking up people in Big Sandy and Fort Benton during its Great Falls run. After Anderson relayed another request, saying employees at the Havre City-County Airport have asked if stops could be made there, Lyons said that is a change he has considered and would like to implement. Stiffarm said some unexpected benefits also have occurred. She said special service people contracted at Northern Montana Hospital, such as to train hospital staff members, have used the bus line to get from Great Falls, after they fly in there, to come to Havre to do their work at the hospital. “It's interesting that we're able to get services here as well as providing services,” she said. Lyons said the system already is meeting its purpose. “It's opened up a whole new world of transportation in the area,” he said. On the Net: North Central Montana Transit: http://www.ncmtransit. org


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